One week after a Turkish newspaper published an article exposing anti-Assyrian bias in a Turkish history book used for 10th grade classes, the same newspaper, Today’s Zaman, revised the article and changed all occurrences of the word Assyrian to “Syriac.” In doing so the newspaper revealed it holds the same anti-Assyrian bias (AINA 10-2-2011) as the textbook it criticized just the week before.
Assyrian International News Agency
The original article (reprinted here on AINA) was titled “Discriminative Discourse in History Textbooks Upsets Assyrians in Turkey” and used Assyrian as the ethnic designation for Assyrians throughout the body of the article. The revised article has the title “Discriminative discourse in history textbooks upsets Syriacs” and uses the word “Syriac” throughout the body of the article. No explanation was given for the change. The URL for the article still uses the word “assyrians” (http://www.todayszaman.com/news-258035-discriminative-discourse-in-history-textbooks–upsets-assyrians.html).
Syriac is the technical name of the dialect of neo-Aramaic that Assyrians speak (neo-Syriac, to be precise). It is the name of the language, not the ethnic designation of the people. The proper term used to identify the Assyrians, in English, is “Assyrians.” In their own language (neo-Syriac) the self-designation is “atoraya/ashoraya” or “soraya” (by dropping the initial “a”, which is very common in neo-Syriac), from which derives the English form “Assyrian” (via Greek then Latin).
AINA contacted Today’s Zaman via email and requested an explanation for the change in wording. A woman named Baris Altintas, who identified herself as a correspondent, responded to our inquiry, saying
Thank you for bringing this to our attention. I was the one who changed it, as we have generaly [sic] used the word “Syriac” to refer to the people (and have treated the word Assyrians as the nation that existed 3,000 years ago).
I apologize if our change has offended you or your community.
I am talking now to our chief copy editor about possibly changing it back. We are really confused, but looking into it.
Ms. Altintas appears to be making a distinction between today’s Assyrians and their ancestors, implying that they are unrelated.
AINA responded by saying “…you have not adequately explained why you changed the word 7 days after it was originally posted,” to which Ms. Altintas said “I am, personally, hugely offended and angered by you suggesting that I am lying about the reason behind the word change. I am not going to sit here and read another e-mail by you accusing me of dishonesty. So if you plan to do that, please write to somebody else in TZ, not me” and “We have decided to use the terminology in EU reports and they mostly say Syriacs.”
AINA asked Ms. Altintas to provide examples of EU reports which use the word “Syriac” but she did not do so.
None of the three managing editors which were included in AINA’s emails responded. AINA sent an email to the CEO of Today’s Zaman, but he has not responded.
The full transcript of the email exchange can be read here.
The Assyrian Federation of Sweden sent the following letter to Bülent Keneş, the Editor-in-Chief of Today’s Zaman:
This is to shortly comment on your decision to change the appellation of the Assyrians of Turkey in the article entitled Discriminative discourse in history textbook upsets Assyrians (now “Syriacs”) of September 26, 2011. As an Assyrian organization it is of course important for us that the correct appellation is used when referring to our people.
We would like to suggest that you consult recent publications of experts (such as Turkish historian Bulent Özdemir) regarding the name used by the group commonly known as Suryani kadim in Turkish.
It is a historical fact, well established in the records of Ottoman and Turkish archives amongst others, that our community in Turkey has been translating its name into the English “Assyrian” since the first half of the nineteenth century.
Their first church in Istanbul, built in 1844, was called the “Pera Assyrian Church” in the English language.
We will gladly provide you with relevant literature and urge you to use the correct appellation when mentioning the Assyrian people in your publication. We also want to take this opportunity to thank you for writing extensively on Assyrian issues in Turkey in Today’s Zaman.
In choosing to refuse to use the proper name for the Assyrian people, Today’s Zaman would seem to be committing cultural genocide, continuing the genocide of Assyrians that began in Ottoman Turkey on April 24, 1915. It is ironic that the story the newspaper wrote, which meant to highlight the ill-treatment of Assyrians by some in Turkish society, became itself the vehicle of such ill-treatment.
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